The old expression "scared to death" is true, say experts. Fear can trigger a heart attack and during the current coronavirus crisis, it's important to calm your fears, protecting your emotional and mental health as well as your heart.
Dr. Gabe Mirkin, author of "The Healthy Heart Miracle," tells Newsmax that one of the first recorded cases of death by fear occurred in the classic detective story, "The Hound of the Baskervilles."
"It was written in 1901 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was not only a popular author but a brilliant physician who had extraordinary insight into the causes of disease long before there was scientific evidence to support his views," Mirkin says.
In the novel, Sir Charles Baskerville died from an apparent heart attack surrounded by the paw prints of a huge dog that, as legend would have it, killed one of his evil ancestors. One hundred years later, an article in the British Medical Journal proposed that being scared to death should be called, "The Baskerville Effect," says Mirkin.
Closer to home, the Felony Murder Rule allows prosecutors in all 50 states to bring first-degree murder charges against a defendant if someone dies during a crime such as burglary, rape, or kidnaping, even if the defendant did not intend to kill the victim.
In 2003, jurors convicted thief Mark Fisher for the murder of 89-year-old Freda Dale, who died in her home of a fear-induced heart attack. And in January 2009, prosecutors charged a Charlotte, North Carolina, defendant with first-degree murder for breaking into the home of 79-year-old grandmother of five Mary Parnell, who died even though he never touched her. According to Mirkin, the man scared her so much that she had a heart attack.
Mirkin says that when you are frightened, your adrenal glands release adrenaline that helps your flight-or-fight response. Adrenaline makes your heart beat faster to bring more blood to the muscles and also shunts blood from your intestines to your muscles. The hormone opens calcium channels in heart muscle cells, which fills these cells with calcium to keep the heart muscle contracted and prevents the muscle from relaxing.
"This can cause an irregular heartbeat, which can kill you," says Mirkin.
While it is highly unlikely that fear could kill a healthy person with a strong heart, those with an underlying heart condition should be careful if they suffer any of the following symptoms:
- fluttering in the chest
- fast, slow or irregular heartbeats
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- feelings of fatigue, light-headedness, dizziness or sweating
"Practice kindness to everyone, including yourself, to reduce your fear and anxiety," says Mirkin. "Follow the guidelines for social distancing and play it smart. Taking action can help you face your fears."
For more information, visit DrMirkin.com.
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